Another decent book in the Matthew Scudder detective series. Interesting, but not one of the best. Notable because this book introduces the character of TJ, a teenage street kid who hangs out on 42nd Street (referred to in the books as "the Deuce") and who becomes Scudder's eyes and ears in the street world of New York City. This character evolves significantly in the later books and is now my favorite person in the series. I am under the impression that author Lawrence Block really likes the TJ character too, as the scenes with TJ are always the most lively and funny in each book. But here he only makes a couple of brief appearances, and it seems as though Block is still trying to figure out what he wants to develop him into.
The book is also notable because of the way Block ends the tale, with Scudder coming as close to being a criminal as ever before or since in the series. Faced with knowledge of a series of murders that he cannot prove to the satisfaction of the legal system, he essentially hands over the murderers to a gang member he is friendly with, and actively participates in the execution of the murderers. I supposee this is street justice, but I still found the end very disturbing. Scudder has killed people on many occasions in the series, but in the other books I've read he has either done so in some manner of self-defense or to avenge a murder or a severly violent act committed against one of his close friends. That's not the case at the end of this book...Scudder has no significant personal ties to or need for vengeance against the murderders here, except for knowledge of the crimes they have committed, and he is unknown to them when he sets events in motion that result in their execution. Again, I suppose this is not completely contradictory behavior for Scudder, and the people executed were sadistic killers who would surely have killed again, but I still found the end disturbing and a little depressing. In the smae way that I think most fans of this series always secretly hope that Scudder will be able to stay away from alcohol, in the same vein I would like to think that Scudder would have found a better way to resolve the dilemma he finds himself in at the end of this book. I guess I'd like to think he was a better man that that, although it's hard to read the end and not conclude that justice was served.